Conscience-free politics – truly bizarre

Two faces of Irish politics – Creighton and Kenny

Irish TAOISEACH (prime minister) Enda Kenny thinks politics is all about fixing things. He is a mechanic without a clue when it comes to principles – either philosophical or anthropological, not to talk of his bizarre theology. He is now is facing an unprecedented party rebellion for the very reason that he has failed on all these counts. Those who rebelled against him in the Irish parliament – and those who will do so over the next two weeks – know that there is more to life and the pursuit of the common good than “arranging things” so that those who want to can do what they like – regardless of its consequences.

This abortion Bill which the Irish parliament is about to pass into law will be the undoing of Kenny’s reputation as any kind of statesman. It may also be the undoing of his party and many are hoping that it may be the catalyst which will bring about a realignment of Irish political forces into a meaningful one where the illiberal ideologues of the left, and their populist followers, will be confronted with a politics guided by a true perception of humankind and its common good.

Kenny – and the governments of whatever party mixes which have been in power for the last 20 years – inherited a constitutional mess created by a rogue Supreme Court decision, the notorious “X” case decision, based on faulty evidence. This decision compromised the Irish Constitution’s guarantee of the right to life of children in their first nine months of life. Kenny and his acolytes’ ham-fisted effort to “fix” this mess is even more flawed than what it tried to fix.

Mr Kenny has adopted a hardline stance against those who voted against the Government’s legislation last night. He expelled all four members from the parliamentary party immediately, promising to end their political careers. But Irish people looking on at this debacle can now see a handful of principled politicians who are prepared to think about what they are being asked to sign their names to. On the other side they see a crowd of sheep following a leader who ordered them to vote with him, regardless of their conscience.

Both Ireland’s main political parties – whose origins go back to Ireland’s Civil War over 90 years ago – now look like unravelling. The Fianna Fail party leader, Michéal Martin, supports the legislation and if principled voices within the party had not prevailed he would also have denied its members freedom of conscience on this matter. Potentially the Irish parliament has now been divided into two camps, those from who conscience counts for something and those for who it clearly counts for nothing – for it it doesn’t pertain to matters of life and death what does to what does it pertain?

This unravelling will be no bad thing. There is every hope now that the women and men of principle – of any and no party – inside and outside the parliament might now come together to give an effective voice to a disenfranchised electorate disillusioned for at least a decade by a political culture devoid of anything other than a “fix-it-up-at-any-cost” mentality.

Lucinda Creighton, a Minister in Kenny’s government, whom all observers expect will take her stand against him on the issue next week, made a powerful defence of the dissidents’ case in the parliament yesterday and would be the natural leader if a new political force were it to emerge. If it does this will be no single issue movement but a movement based on a vision of human society and the true nature of humankind within it – just, free and enterprising. There are many currently outside the formal politics of the country who would have been ashamed to stand beside those currently in power but who would be very happy to cooperate and support those who are now revealing themselves as politician with principles.

Ms. Creighton put her cards on the table in the parliament in a long, articulate and detailed speech on Monday. At one point she told us that I’ve had people contact me in recent months condemning me for having a ‘moral’ or ethical concern about abortion. Some demanded that I leave my morals or conscience aside in order to support abortion. Now I must say that I find this bizarre.

There is an emerging consensus in Ireland which suggests that having a sense of morality has something to do with the Catholic Church. It is automatically assumed that if you consult your conscience, you are essentially consulting with Rome. This is deeply worrying. It is a lazy way of attempting to undermine the worth of an argument, without actually dealing with the substance. This is not just a Catholic issue, any more than it is a Protestant or Muslim issue. This is not a religious issue. It is a human rights issue.

This was nothing less than a veiled criticism of her leader who has been proclaiming his peculiar brand of religion and politics around the country over the past few months – a very bizarre political philosophy indeed.

I wonder what one should consult when voting on a fundamental human rights issue such as this, Ms. Creighton continued, if not one’s own conscience? My personal view is that all I can do, when making a decision on life and death, and that is what we are considering here, is consult my conscience, which is based on my sense of what is right and what is wrong. What else can I consult? The latest opinion poll? The party hierarchy? The editor of the most popular newspaper?

I mentioned groupthink, which is a corrosive affliction in this country. We saw it in the Haughey era, we saw it during the Celtic Tiger era, and we see it on this question of abortion. It is easy to understand why people in positions of responsibility want thorny issues to simply disappear. It is far easier than risking conflict, unpopularity or worse; paying the price for speaking up…

Some were very offended by her groupthink remark. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? ‘Groupthinkers’ never see themselves as such.

This is a voice we have not heard in Irish politics for many years. This represents a political philosophy of depth and substance worthy of Ireland’s greatest political thinker, Edmund Burke. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a new era in Irish politics in which cant, posturing and “fixing” will be a thing of the grim past.

A further six Fine Gael may follow Ms. Creighton next week. With two thirds of Michéal Martin’s party voting contrary to his line and without any substantial policy differences between them and the Fine Gael rebels on other issues, there is every hope that the old outdated party structure might finally crumble.

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